I always seem to have to lead off with a statement in order to get everyone to realize that I'm not preaching. I have been on the other side of the fence before on almost every subject I write about. I have been and may still even be on the opposite side of whatever argument you choose to throw at me. The reason I want you to know this every time is because I don't ever want my readers to think I am some perfect being that has all the answers. I have fewer answers than I even care to admit. The difference is that I choose to learn and in turn, grow, and in doing this, sharing these revelations with you helps us all to do the same. And I slip, and I will continue to make impulsive mistakes. But I maintain that once it is pointed out that I am in conflict with my own stated values, I will explain my change of heart or apologize, whichever is the right thing by my core values.
However, one thing I have always maintained as being a value is my abhorrence for bullies. Having been a bully and having been the bullied at many differing points in my life has given me valuable perspective. It is my belief that those who misuse their power to inflict unwarranted pain or discomfort on others, especially the vulnerable, are among the lowest scourge in society. But as I said, I have been in that position myself before, yet I stand by that statement. Those moments, reflecting on them over the years and even decades later, today, embarrass and disappoint me more than any sin I have ever enacted.
I do not necessarily equate retweeting a poorly thought-out statement or making an infrequent joke to be bullying, so know that while we need to understand that and make attempts to change our outlook on issues like these, there is a difference between that context and the harassment of others because of their differences. But there are plenty of people who don't consider that difference and the result is frequently resistance to the bigger picture; the misuse of power on those who can't respond to that power appropriately.
As I matured and realized the root causes of why I bullied others in my life, I better understood the reason I needed to defend those being bullied. Personally being the target of a bully is independent of my observations; while there were and are moments when personally facing up to a bully has been extraordinarily difficult, it really doesn't lend any perspective to me as to why I should stand up for others. My beliefs have helped me reach past those issues and to understand them for what they are. I don't have any lasting emotional distress over being bullied. I have studied the causes of conflict and can understand where the source of much of that attitude comes from. So personally, it is immaterial.
But when I look at others and understand the pain that comes to them and can see it from the aspect of an outsider (from the perspective outside of the bullied and the bully, that is), I see that the immaturity of the bully is directly the cause of the cycle, and as we all know, that cycle has a way of sometimes manifesting itself outside of the original conflict, as in the point where someone becomes so unstable that they react with escalated violence, even to those who were innocent (other than failing to help stop the bullying, that is).
Oftentimes, bullies are reflecting their own experience, being bullied themselves. Their inadequate response to those incidents cause them to feel powerless, and in an effort to gain personal power, they too act it out on vulnerable individuals. Bullying is simply the exertion of power on someone who is helpless to respond. If that individual was capable of responding, either physically or intellectually, it would end the bullying, as the bully would find a different place to exert their efforts. Bullies don't like getting beat up by their targets.
In my enlightenment over the many years of leading, one of my beliefs was that if I were ever in a position to exert influence over others that I wanted to do so wisely and judiciously, and eliminate bullies from my ranks. I won't say that at points in my early years I didn't get caught up in the hazing that used to happen in stations, but I was never malicious about it. It doesn't make it right, but as one who had been hazed and had done the hazing, it seemed like an acceptable practice thirty years ago and these days, I see the results differently. But there is a clear difference between a "little brotherly banter and pranksterism" and some of the things said and done to the intellectually or physically challenged.
What those of you who are shifting uncomfortably in your seats right now fail to accept is that if those individuals could have a choice to be like others or to endure the hardships they face, I'd bet they'd like to be able to go beyond those limitations. I have a daughter who has Down syndrome and is one of the most precious and beautiful blessings I have in my life. As a result of some of her issues, she has a pretty severe speech disability. I can see the frustration she gets when she is telling me a story and I don't understand what she is saying. I can grasp that she wants to change this reality and is working toward it, but it is elusive. But making fun of her inability to make that difference isn't just unwarranted, it is evil. It is dangling a prize in front of someone with little or no chance at reaching it and torturing them with every attempt to obtain it.
The bullied want to be accepted for what they are as part of the rest of society. Their non-conformance isn't always chosen non-conformance, and the biggest problem for bullies is their inability to grasp that. Instead, they think it is cool to hate, or cool to exert power. It makes them feel powerful, even if what they really are is insignificant. If those who bully others could focus for a moment on that feeling of powerlessness, perhaps they wouldn't do the things they do. But again, their failure to reach that opportunity reflects their immaturity.
Bullies have no business being in positions of power. It isn't an issue of education; they may claim that they didn't understand that what they were doing is wrong, but any idiot can see that it is wrong. Putting someone through a few hours of sensitivity training doesn't change the underlying psychology. When a person in a position of power abuses that power and then gets called on it, all that happens is that the bullying becomes more covert. Bullies don't change overnight. They got that way through years of conditioning and any effort to change that behavior is more often than not met with resentment and projection. What has to happen is the culture has to change, that bullying has to be seen as wholly unacceptable, not through policy, but through perception.
As a community of fire and medical responders, we have to step back and appreciate that we have a certain amount of power conveyed upon us by society and we have to wield that power judiciously, not just among our peers, but to the people we interact with daily. Unfortunately, we have a significant number of individuals who have joined our ranks not because they want to help others, but because that badge makes them feel powerful. The lights on their car make them feel special. The patch on their shoulder gives them authority. There is nothing altruistic about their presence among us, and when they rise to a level of power, as in achieving officership, if they don't have a realistic understand of how to responsibly use power, they abuse it.
Power is influence. If someone in your ranks is a bully, they consider their existence to be influential. The most effective means of solving that issue is to remove their ability to influence others. If they are there for truly altruistic reasons, they will stay, perhaps grudgingly, but they will stay, because it isn't about them, but about the better good to society. If it is about them, they won't stick around long. We need, as a brotherhood, to stop tolerating the bullies and remove their ability to harm others by rendering them toothless. We need to stand together when we see bullying and ensure that the bullies know their actions aren't acceptable. And we need to encourage those who feel powerless to contribute as they can and make them feel like part of the society.
There is a saying that I quote often: "A society is judged by how it takes care of its most vulnerable". Overall, society these days doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of that. But in our profession, our MISSION is to help those who are vulnerable. It is the absolute core reason for our existence. You can frame it however you want to, but look at what your job description entails: saving lives, protecting property, and preserving the environment. Those verbs, "saving", "protecting", and "preserving" are all indicative of standing between harm and a vulnerable entity. If this isn't why you are a firefighter or a medical professional, than why the hell are you still taking a check or volunteering? Our responsibility is to be the person who can be entrusted with a certain amount of power in order to help others and to use that power for the good of society. If we can't be a clearly positive example of that philosophy, we need to go. Today, hopefully.